ELLSWORTH, Maine — Despite the fact that the poor economy has kept the price of lobster relatively low for the past 18 months, reported lobster landings in Maine in 2009 were higher than they have ever been before, according to state officials.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources on Monday released its preliminary count for lobster landings in Maine for 2009. At nearly 75.6 million pounds, the estimate is 5.7 million pounds higher than the 69.9 million pounds caught by Maine lobstermen in 2008.
Previously, the highest recorded volume for landings in Maine was in 2006, when nearly 75.3 million pounds of lobster were brought ashore.
According to Patrice McCarron, executive director of Maine Lobstermen’s Association, many MLA members indicated last year that they were catching a lot of lobsters, which represent the largest and most valuable fishery in the state.
“The resource continues to look very robust,” McCarron said. “Things look really good on the water. The landings are not a surprise.”
The price of the tasty crustacean, however, did not have a record year last year, according to the state’s preliminary statistics. The value of the estimated 75.6 million-pound catch was $221.6 million, or about $23 million less than the $244.8 million value of the total landings in 2008.
The preliminary 2009 estimates indicate that the average statewide boat price for lobster last year was $2.93 a pound, which would be the lowest statewide average since 1998, when it was $2.92. In 2008, the average statewide boat price — what fishermen were paid for their catch — was $3.50. From 2004 through 2007, the average annual statewide boat price stayed above $4 a pound.
McCarron said the relatively low price would not have affected all lobstermen the same way, because some fish fewer traps or have other means or jobs with which to earn income. For those who do fish more aggressively than others, the higher volume of landings likely helped soften the blow of the lower price, she said.
“If you have a lower price, you have to land more to make ends meet,” McCarron said. “It hurts a lot less for those who did well in volume.”
Because the state did not require lobster dealers to file landings reports until 2004, statistics collected before that year likely don’t represent the actual volume of lobster landed in Maine, state officials have said. DMR officials believe the year of highest landings may have been 2002, when they estimate that 88 million pounds of lobster were brought ashore.
In recent memory, Knox County usually has recorded the most landings of any county in Maine, but last year Hancock County had the highest landings total, according to the preliminary figures. The statistics indicate that nearly 22.5 million pounds were landed in Hancock County in 2009, while nearly 20.3 million pounds were landed in Knox County. Those figures represent increases from 2008 of 80,000 pounds for Knox County and of more than 3.1 million pounds for Hancock County.
The year with the highest recorded value of lobster landed in Maine was 2005, when 68.7 million pounds of lobster worth nearly $318 million were brought ashore. The average annual statewide boat price for lobster that year was $4.68 a pound, also a record high.
Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe said the catch numbers show the resource is in good shape and that lobstermen are fishing hard to make up for the lower prices they are receiving.
He said the low value is a reflection of the poor economy and people cutting luxury items out of their budgets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.